Commerce as an Instrument of Peace

Suffice to say, the establishment of world peace is not in the job description of most CEOs.  But after the most recent terror attacks that brought down a Russian passenger plane and took the lives of innocent people in Beirut, Paris and Mali, the world is joining in growing solidarity.

We may be tempted to feel helpless, as we continue to pray for peace. But all of us in the world of work can rise and do our part right where we are and use commerce as an instrument of peace.

To be sure, there are industries that benefit from the sale of military equipment and profit from the rebuilding activities of war-torn areas, but far more industries benefit from stability and are harmed by violence and unrest. Let our understanding of the common good fuel opportunities to build up communities where everyone feels connected, useful, and fulfilled.

Recalling the Nature of Work

Work is part of who we are as mankind. In the very beginning, God called on man to cultivate and care for the Garden. This calling was before the Fall. Therefore, work holds a special place of distinction in the understanding of mankind’s duty to cooperate with God to build up our communities into places where conditions exist for a decent life.

Commerce, then, provides the opportunity to realize the interdependence of man. Pope Saint John Paul II reminds us in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus that “the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.”

Catholic Social Teaching emphasizes this sense of the common good and reminds us that the primary characteristic of a people is its sharing of life and values. Commerce is seen as a tool to facilitate the creation of what Pope Saint John Paul II in Centesimus Annus calls a “society of persons” in which “people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the necessary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through labor.”

Strong, Stable Communities

In research published in the European Journal of Political Economy, Raul Caruso of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and Friedrich Schneider of Johannes Kepler University of Linz analyzed economic data and terrorism activity in 12 western European countries between 1994 and 2007. Perhaps it is not surprising that their research confirms the classical economic argument of opportunity costs. They found that “the larger the set of economic opportunities for an individual, the lower the likelihood or the willingness for her/him to be involved in terrorist activities.”

This, of course, does not mean to suggest that all poverty-stricken communities are the breeding ground for terrorists or harbingers of violence. However, it does suggest that strong, stable communities where people feel connected and valued and are endowed with a sense of hope for a prosperous future provide an environment for peace.

Engaging the World of Work

From an extensive study conducted by the Council on Economic Priorities of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, five principles emerge as guide posts for our thinking about how to engage the global corporate community in using business activity to promote peace.

  1. Strategic commitment to human rights, anti-corruption and security issues.
  2. Risk and impact analysis with respect to the nature of conflict in which the company does its business.
  3. Dialogue and consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
  4. Developing mutually-beneficial and transparent partnerships with governments, other companies, and non-governmental organizations.
  5. Developing accountability metrics in order to evaluate corporate actions.

Each of these principles helps to establish what the Catholic tradition calls the “common good.” Pope Benedict XVI notes in Caritas in Veritate that “[t]o desire the common good and strive toward it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of , that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the ‘city.’” He reiterates that “[t]he more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them.”

In his encyclical letter Pacem in Terris, Pope Saint John XXIII was keen to note that “[i]n our time the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained.” This would most certainly include communities where not only opportunities abound but safety and security are the norm.

How Businesses Contribute to Building Peace

In his book Business, Integrity and Peace, Dr. Timothy Fort argues that “ethical business behavior contributes to peace.” One of the reasons for this, Fort contends, is that “the productive engagement of individuals in work prevents leaving workers idle and therefore ripe for charismatic leadership pointing them into violent acts.” He is also right to point out that the inverse is also true: “businesses that are perceived to be exploitative or culturally undermining could sow the seeds for resentment and violence.”

Dr. Fort offers three distinct contributions that business can make to sustainable peace:

  1. Economic development. When employment is created through profitable businesses, communities tend to be less violent. The correlation between employment and violence is more positively associated with those jobs that provide “value-added” work, as opposed to those where the work is the exportation of “undifferentiated commodities.” Fort references World Bank studies that show “when businesses add value to the product, violence decreases.”
  2. Corruption Avoidance. In analyzing Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Fort notes that there is a correlation between the levels of violence and levels of civic and business transparency. He notes that “to the extent that corporations are open to external evaluation of their conduct… they can make a contribution to less violence (in society).”
  3. Building a Sense of Community. By being good corporate citizens, Fort argues, corporations further such common goods as the protection of ecological resources and the respect of the human rights of workers, and assist in the overall level of “sensitivity to local customs, religions, and traditions.”

Interestingly, Fort also notes that businesses can also be constructive mediating institutions.  He suggests that “people adapt their behavior to fit in at work.”  As such, he opines that a positive business environment could actually “foster the kinds of communal, empathic kinds of moral behavior that are beneficial and, if aimed toward non-violence, can do so with constructive contributions to the larger society.”

Pope Saint John XXIII reiterates in Pacem in Terris that “[h]uman society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.”

Commerce is a Tool

Commerce is not a panacea. It is merely a tool. Indeed, real evil exists in the world. But if we keep our energies engaged with meaningful and productive work and in promoting such opportunities for others, there is much hope in developing and maintaining peaceful communities. Pope Francis reminds of this very simple message: “through work, the family is cared for and children are provided with a dignified life.”

As we continue to pray for those so disassociated from themselves and their communities that terrorism seems like a viable alternative for self-expression, we must always be mindful of our obligations to seek the common good. The Church in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, instructs us that “the common good… [is] the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” Recall that God gave us all the command to fulfil ourselves through our work. Let it be used as an instrument of peace.

[Feature image by Sushil Nash via Unsplash]